The NDP and Yukon Party: who’s playing whom?

Yukon's New Democrats: shrewd deal-makers or a bunch of dupes? Your answer will depend on where you sit. But, either way, the NDP's duo proved the big newsmakers of the legislative sitting that wrapped up yesterday.

Yukon’s New Democrats: shrewd deal-makers or a bunch of dupes?

Your answer will depend on where you sit. But, either way, the NDP’s duo proved the big newsmakers of the legislative sitting that wrapped up yesterday.

There’s no shortage of NDP-led initiatives that won government approval this sitting. An anti-poverty summit will be held in February and three select committees have been charged with investigating progressive causes.

One will look at overhauling Yukon’s antiquated landlord and tenancy laws. Another will consider a mandatory helmet law for ATV riders. A third will ponder rewriting the legislature’s rulebook to encourage more amicable behaviour among MLAs.

Not bad for a party in the midst of rebuilding itself, that has just two elected members and a new, unelected leader.

The big question for all these NDP-backed initiatives is whether they will produce real, concrete action or just a lot of public meetings and inch-thick reports that lead nowhere. Only time will tell that.

To naysayers like the Liberals’ Gary McRobb, the NDP’s co-operation with the Yukon Party amounts to a game of “patty-cake” that’s provided a convenient distraction from long-standing questions that Premier Dennis Fentie has failed to answer about the Peel and ATCO scandals.

(Of course, whether the Liberals are really trenchant critics, or just petulant whiners also depends on where you sit.)

The NDP doesn’t shy away from criticizing the government to make a point, notes Elizabeth Hanson, their leader. They just don’t belabour the point through the entire sitting, as the Liberals did with questions aimed at Fentie’s involvement in privatization talks with Alberta-based ATCO and his role in gutting documents that proposed preserving the Peel Watershed’s pristine wilderness.

“What’s to be gained by covering the same old ground?” she asked.

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell counters that his party is the only “real” opposition in the legislature.

“If you believe something needs to be changed, you have to go after the government and expose the double-dealing and the misleading of Yukoners that goes on. I think an opposition needs to be tough to hold this government accountable.”

Certainly, what Hanson calls the NDP’s “positive approach” has benefitted the Yukon Party. The government’s image was badly tarnished over the summer, beginning when half of Yukon Energy’s board resigned in June to protest Fentie’s privatization talks with ATCO.

As Fentie continued to stonewall questions about his role in the ATCO and Peel scandals, public anger grew and the Yukon Party’s popularity took a tumble in the polls. Many expected him to issue some sort of apology when the legislature reconvened in early November.

It didn’t happen. Instead, Fentie wagered the public would grow tired of hearing the same questions and his same pat responses.

And he had a plan to outflank the Liberals: Fentie announced the government would do business differently. It would work with the opposition. At least, it would work with the NDP.

This helped create the appearance the Liberals were the ones being intransigent, rather than the government.

For Hanson, all this posturing is beside the point. If the NDP succeeds in having Yukon’s landlord and tenancy laws revamped, that could make a real difference in the lives of the territory’s needy.

Critics are less optimistic about the NDP’s much-touted legislative renewal push, which will result in public meetings being held to discuss how to best rewrite the House’s rules.

These changes would have been better made through the legislature’s standing committee on rules, elections and privileges, said Mitchell, echoing an earlier comment by Independent Brad Cathers.

But the committee hasn’t met in years. Meanwhile, the select committee charged with the renewal drive has until the autumn of 2011 to report back to the legislature.

That coincides with the deadline for the next territorial election, which makes Mitchell fear that the report will be blown off.

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